Through many years of running, I’ve spent my fair share of miles pounding the pavement. And when training for a road race, it’s necessary to acclimatize your joints and connective tissues to running on harder surfaces.
But as my internal odometer ticks off more mileage each year, I know I need to focus on taking care of my body. Cross-training is one way I do that, but my favorite way to take it easy on my knees and hips is trail-running.
Smooth, peaceful, lush single-track for miles… it’s a tiny piece of heaven on earth!
Although the technical terrain and pervasive hills of backwoods trails may seem like it is tougher on your body, trail-running is much gentler than running on asphalt and concrete. The trail is softer and absorbs more of the impact of your footstrike.
Don’t get me wrong – off-road mileage is a tough workout. It uses different muscles and connective tissues than road running because your body undergoes more lateral (side-to-side) movement. All that stump jumping, rock avoiding and stream leaping strengthens stabilizing muscles and tissues, yet allows your body to recover faster with the decreased pounding.
If you haven’t done much trail running, give it a shot. It’s especially great during the hot summer months with the shade of the trees keeping temps slightly cooler.
Here are some of my favorite Atlanta area trail spots:
1. Fort Yargo State Park in Winder.
3. Tribble Mill Park in Grayson.
4. Laurel Ridge Trail at Buford Dam.
5. Stone Mountain Park’s Cherokee and connecting trails.
6. Gainesville College Trails and Chicopee Woods in Gainesville. (The Chicopee trails are technically mountain bike trails, but if you play nice, yield to cyclists and avoid peak riding times, they’re great!)
If you don’t mind driving and are looking for a challenge, I also highly recommend running the Cumberland Trail outside of Chattanooga, and Georgia’s own Appalachian Trail which has some really great (and tough!) stretches of single-track. I’ve heard great things about the trails in the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Areas like Sope Creek, but haven’t taken the time to check those out yet. Any other trail-running fans out there? What are your favorite spots?